Tuesday, December 17, 2013

CII Conference on e-Learning and e-Publishing

I attended the above conference in Park Sheraton, Chennai yesterday. I spoke on the technology challenges one has to face in producing and delivering E-books for the Indian languages.

But more than my session, I enjoyed the last session on "Tablet Based Education".

Couple of years ago, I spoke at TEDxSSN about the need to introduce a complete Tablet based education at the school level. I was then disillusioned as I tested with many low cost Chinese Android devices. They were completely crap, the Android OS was not up to the mark, and I felt the entire Tablet revolution will be only for the rich and stopped thinking about it.

Subramanian Viswanathan of CEO of Edtech made some good points about why Tablet today may win where models such as OLPC failed in the past. I agree with him. I hope I paraphrase him correctly thus:-
  1. Tablets have a fantastic, natural interface through "touch", which even a child which has not learnt letters of a language can operate, while keyboards and mouse are a lot more difficult. Over time, we are going to get "gesture recognition" which will make it even better and easier.
  2. Tablets are getting thinner and faster and hence easy to hold and take around.
  3. Bandwidth is getting better and people are making provisions in schools for this.
  4. Unlike the Laptops software, apps have been unleashed for the tablets. The app store concept has made content and application creation and dissemination too easy. Social media has become stronger and the connectedness helps in innovative uses for the product.
  5. The users have become co-creators, and not just passive consumers.
He was suggesting that people invest in branded products rather than the cheap chinese tablets. (I should know better!)

But the really fascinating talk was the one that followed - by Shefali Jhaveri, a teacher at the Canadian International School at Bangalore. Her school has introduced iPads for all the students. No books, no notebooks. Everything is done in their iPads. To get the teachers familiar with this product, the teachers were given the iPads a good six months ahead.

The default apps that come with the iPad for the students include Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, Comic Life and she also talked later about Doceri. Students write their reports using Pages, presentations using Keynote, and also compile their projects using Doceri (a screen animator app - I have not used this). Comic Life is used by the students to create some of their projects.

Teachers trawl through iTunes Univ and identify course material rleated to the syllabus they have to teach. Text books are provided through iPad directly (I didn't figure out who the publisher was and whether iBooks was the book reader).

Subramanian, in his presentation, said most teachers are against the tablet because it does not enable handwriting that well, but that soon good writing may be possible with a pen like device. (I have found handwriting cumbersome as well currently with the current stylus models.)

Shefali talked about and demonstrated a human body app which mimics digestive system, respiratory system, circulatory system etc. which provides students with excellent understanding of these lessons far better than the boring printed book.


Of course, there are challenges in India for the neighbourhood low cost schools. There are even bigger challenges for the Indian language schools. It is up to us to take this exciting idea to the next level.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The incredible Arvind Kejriwal

I have been following Arvind Kejriwal, since Anna Hazare's movement against corruption gained prominence. I read through the various Jan Lokpal draft bills, and was not entirely impressed by them. I am not sure whether the institution of Lokpal will solve our corruption problem. However, I have felt strongly to support the activities of Hazare, and donate little bits of money wherever possible.

Popular support for Hazare's cause went up and then came down. That was inevitable. Many factors came together to defeat him. Hazare himself was one of the reasons.

But, when Hazare went on fast and the parliament had to be convened in a special session to debate corruption and Lokpal - that was the highest point of the anti-corruption movement. If you are cynical, you will laugh at this. The debaters in the parliament were all past masters of corruption and wheeling-dealing. It was clear that no good will come out of this special session other than to get Hazare to end his fast. You knew that the movement was going to fizzle out. Then why all this euphoria?

But the simmering discontent was there. Hazare didn't know how to make the best use of it. Kejriwal knew, and started his party - AAP. With just one year in hand, he seems to have done an outstanding job of galvanising the Delhi voters. This is simply incredible. Two days have passed since the Sunday results and I am yet to come to grips with this result. Defeating CM Sheila Dikshit in her own constituency, winning 28 seats, winning such a large percentage of votes, all with probably a small fraction of the funds at their disposal compared to that of BJP and Congress, are nothing short of amazing. From various accounts, it appears that even the AAP top folks are surprised by the results.

It is quite possible that AAP will wither away like Asom Gana Parishad. It is equally possible that AAP will go on to consolidate its position in a few states if not the entire country. Small states and Union Territories across India are ripe for such a new force. Pondicherry and Goa could be ideal pickings in future. States where there is no worthwhile opposition are other possibilities. For example, Maharashtra is drifting away with four large parties forming two fronts and none growing beyond their size. This state is ideal for AAP to firmly plant themselves in. Haryana which is ruled by a blatantly corrupt Congress, but where BJP has hardly played a serious role of opposition is another great opportunity. In fact, even Gujarat is a possibility where Congress is weakening steadily and those opposed to Modi want a strong rallying point.

This also opens up possibilities for other forces. Tamil Nadu is stuck between AIADMK and DMK, Both are incredibly corrupt, utterly inefficient, totally casteist and they hardly even talk about good governance. The challengers to these parties are breakaways from the same stock or are similar in content and form. AIADMK leader has not developed a second line of leadership. DMK leadership struggle may result in internecine family quarrels. AAP, or a similar group can establish itself in Tamil Nadu, if they do enough groundwork.

I am a little nervous about AAP's views on economics and other matters. But then, most parties in India have no views at all and they blithely go around destroying the country. Some of AAP's candidates seem to be dodgy characters, but by and large AAP seems to have given tickets to common folks who will never get a chance in any other party. That gladdens me a lot. If they maintain this character, I will support them wholeheartedly.

[Disclaimer: I have published the Tamil translation of Arvind Kejriwal's book 'Swaraj', தன்னாட்சி: வளமான இந்தியாவை உருவாக்க and my company is likely to gain if this book in Tamil sells more copies.]

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quality of our graduates

For the last couple of days Satya and I have been interviewing rookie programmers - people with less than one year experience for a certain activity we are going to get into. We are not particular that they should be Engineering graduates, or MCA etc. But you find them everywhere and we have received resumes of people with either an Engineering degree or an MCA. They have completed their last degree just an year back.

After talking to them on other things, we ask them to solve a few simple Math problems. This is really revealing. I give below the questions.

One candidate with a B.Sc (Comp) and MCA couldn't solve a single problem above. His answer to the first question was "1". In fact three candidates all gave "1" as the answer to the first question. Then on further prompting and helpful hints, one came up with 1.4, another 1.414. One person came up with an amazing method, which resulted in sqrt(35) reaching close to 12.xxx. No one could touch the quadratic equation. One candidate solved all but the last problem.

The degree we are giving out is worth shit.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

iPad vs Nexus Android Tablet

I went from this article (Unapologetically cheap) to this article (What happens when it's all glass?) via Shankar Ganesh in Facebook.

Ignoring other OS or device manufacturers, my basic problem with Android earlier was this. It was simply no good compared to iOS. The gap was just too wide. The devices running Android were pathetic too. Even as the hardware started getting better, the Android OS simply did not keep up. That is until now.

Even now, a Nexus 7 (2012) 16 GB is no match for an iPad mini. However, as pointed out by Jason Fried, the gap is coming down and the common man on the road is not going to care much about the brand.

Google now seems to have gotten the right idea. Build a solid device - a good, cheap phone that is robust, fast and functional and a similar tablet. Hope it is also profitable for them. Such products can make a big difference to people in countries such as India.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nexus 7 (2012 model)

I bought a Nexus 7, 16 GB Android Tablet by Google & ASUS last week. It cost only Rs 8,999/- on Flipkart and was quite enticing. It is not going to be my primary tablet. I have an iPad. The main reason I bought this one was to test and continuously give feedback on an Android app (NHM Reader) we are developing.

Over the last few of years I have bought many cheap Android tablets, mainly to test them. I was quite disillusioned with them all. It started with a cheap (then - Rs. 7,000) 7 inch unbranded Chinese tablet, resistive touch, Android 1.x which was soon cast away. Then I bought another resistive touch 10 inch, yet another cheap Chinese make (which cost Rs 10,000) from the US and had it delivered to India. It was some Android 2.x version. Again threw it away after a while. Then, again bought a capacitive touch 9 inch version from the US, which performed a little better, but had some fault and I couldn't fix it. [When I say I have thrown it away, I have them all lying in the house somewhere.] I then got a gift of Penta, a capacitive touch 7 inch tablet marketed by BSNL. I gave it to my daughter who quickly grew tired of it and instead kept taking my iPad away.

These were basically for experiments, trying to figure out whether a cheap Android tablet can be a good consumer device, for consuming music, video clips, reading books etc.

In the meantime, I also experimented with couple of cheap Android phones - a Micromax one and a Samsung one, both at the entry level. They also left a lot to be desired. The Samsung Galaxy Y is still in use at home. My daughter uses it, primarily as a web device to watch Youtube clips, check weather, chat with her friends and quickly check her emails.

I was looking for a very robust device at a good price point. Satya then pointed Nexus 7 tab to me an year back. He had procured one from the US. Then it went on sale in India on Flipkart and was costing around Rs. 10,000/- Then when they dropped the price further, I bought it.

There is apparently a new Nexus 7 tab coming up (or has already come up?) I believe. I am not a gadget freak. I don't much care about the latest version of anything. I have an iPhone 3GS and do not feel the need to change it at all. Nexus 7 has only one camera, a front facing, low pixel one. I am yet to take a photo with it. I probably may never use this camera. I do however use my iPad to take a lot of pictures and many video clips as well. So if that is what you want, Nexus 7 is not your device.

However, my experience with Nexus 7 so far is very good. It is nicely packed, compact and light enough. Its storage of 16 GB is more than enough for me. Screen response is really good. Just as good as my iPad. What I liked the most was the neat OS upgrade. The OS that came shipped with the system was 4.2. The same day as I started up the system, it downloaded 4.3 and upgraded itself (of course, with my permission). Then a day later, it prompted for upgrading to 4.4 which I did. (They could have upgraded from 4.2 to 4.4 in one jump, but probably this is easier for them.)

I couldn't get a good cover for it. Satya had procured one from the US. But here in India I have now bought two covers and both are bad. A cheap one from Ritchie Street (Rs 250) which looks good from outside but quite pathetic leather inside. I had to use my cutter to carve out portions to see the full screen. The second one, I bought from Flipkart for around Rs. 550 (marketed by Ambrane India), which contains a cover and a keyboard built in. The keyboard works very nicely. So it can be used with Quickoffice (a free App) and you can create documents and presentations really fast. But the device can slip out of this cover, so it is not very safe.

Kindle app works fine of course. Playing video and music are very competent. Browser (Chrome) experience is of the same standard as in an iPad.

Tamil fonts and complex Unicode rendering are built in and work well. Google doesn't provide a default Tamil input as of now, but Tamil typing can be done with Sellinam well. I am sure there are many other input apps as well.

I paired it with my iPhone through Bluetooth and got the Internet working on the road. At home or office, wi-fi works comfortably.

The battery life is really good. This I did not expect. Almost as good as (but a little lesser to) an iPad.


Why am I bothered about a cheap Android device?

Print books have reached a stage where they are not going to grow much. It is a tough business. Raw material (paper) cost is steadily increasing. Every time paper cost goes up, we are forced to increase the cost of the books considerably - because everything else works on a percentage basis. The author gets 10%, while the trade discount is around 35% for Tamil and can be as much as 50% for English. So if the cost of paper consumed by a copy of a book goes up by Rs 1, you have to increase the MRP by Rs 2, just to stay where you are. If you want cover the inflation elsewhere, you will have to up the MRP by Rs 3. There are plenty of other difficulties a book publishing business face, too numerous to mention here.

In this scenario, Book business can grow only with E-books. It is possible to create e-only books, and retail them for as low as Rs 10 and Rs 20. Most Tamil readers still expect books in this price range. They do not understand that paper price has grown three-fold in the last 10 years. When we started our publishing business roughly a decade back, one kg of paper was around Rs 23-24. Now it is almost Rs 70.

E-books can work only when enough people have a reading device in their hands. Dedicated Kindle Reader like devices with e-ink displays are not going to work in India and particularly in the regional language market. Even Amazon has sort of given up on them, I think. So it will have to be tabs. iOS devices will always be exclusive and expensive.

Given the price conscious Indian markets, it will have to be a cheap and yet robust Android tablet that will trigger in this revolution. Having played enough with resistive touch or unknown brand products, the hassle is so much, I don't think most common folks would even want to touch them. That is where Nexus 7 tab comes in. It is cheap enough at 9k, but in terms of performance it is good enough. In fact it is fantastic.

So go for it!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Campa Cola illegal constructions in Mumbai

Read an article on Campa Cola illegal constructions today [The Hindu]. Municipality had given permission for construction of only 5 floors but over time, 35 extra floors had been created! The residents had gone to court demanding water supply, but the municipality had protested this claiming the construction was illegal. Now, armed with a court order, the municipality wants to demolish the additional floors but the residents are blocking this move. The chief minister of Maharashtra has refused to issue an ordinance regularising the structure. Opposition MLAs have jumped in to support the residents.

I do not understand the housing problem in Mumbai much. There are too many high-rise buildings in Mumbai. You don't see that many in Chennai, though a few have emerged recently, in particular along the Old Mahabalipuram Road. Even then, they are probably around 10 floors. In the middle of the city, it is usually ground+3 or ground+4.

I have read a fair bit about construction in Chennai in violation of the permit given. Usually a shady builder will add a floor more (if four floors are granted, build a fifth one) and then hope that (a) nobody finds out and (b) if found out, pay some fine and regularise the same. But what is shocking to me is, how could someone build 35 extra floors when the original permission was for a mere 5 floors? This is some audacity.

A few famous shops in T.Nagar business district were penalised over the last few years for illegally adding 2-3 floors, or for not having enough parking space. Some demolition happened in case of Saravana Stores, but then the whole thing fizzled out.

The normal middle class response to this is that the officials and the politicians take bribe and let these shops run unchecked. But now, decent upper middle class folks of Campa Cola compound have willingly violated the law and are refusing to vacate their premises. Chances are that most residents of Mumbai will side with the law-breakers. If that is the case, how can we demand that the politicians and the government officials clean up their act? I can clearly see a whole bunch of politicians sympathising with poor Lalu Yadav spending time in prison for stealing a few paltry crores!


I can see a bunch of violations by decent middle class people in Chennai.
  1. Unauthorised floors above the permit.
  2. Not leaving enough space between the compound wall and the construction inside, thereby blocking air and sunlight to the neighbouring building.
  3. Encroaching on public space by extending their construction into the kerb.
  4. Letting out space including the footpath for shops. [My earlier apartment complex had a problem like this. The idiot who owned the commercial space in the ground floor had rented it out to a food joint. This was not to be done - it was meant only for stationery or mobile or such shops. Anyway, the food joint simply gobbled up the entire footpath in front. The food shop fellow asked us to talk to the owner. We fought with the owner, who simply dodged us. The problem continues. I have moved out.]
  5. Constructing ramps across the footpath for vehicles, which makes walking on the footpath difficult for older people or pushing a child-cart impossible.
  6. Not making provision for transformers inside the apartment complex but placing them in the common public space [which is then quickly converted into men's toilet.]
It maybe worthwhile to start a campaign to educate the people on these and many other violations committed by them (mostly because they do not know that they are doing this) and fix them within a specific time, before we start demanding our politicians to clean up their act.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Teacher-Student ratio in Chennai Corporation schools and the medium of instruction

I visited couple of Chennai [corporation] schools this week and have been to quite a few of them in the last year. The enrollment has come down drastically. The High school in Royapettah [Lloyds Road] had only around 200 students or so and the HM said once they used to get upwards of 600-700 students. In the Thousand Lights Middle School, the total number of students in 3rd/4th/5th together came only to 25. Accounting for those students who were absent, it seems like the strength is around 10 per class. In the Triplicane Middle School, 6th/7th/8th total came to 70. That is around 25 per class.

Given that the teacher-student ratio is fantastic - does it result in better outcome in these schools? There seemed to be enough teachers - at least one per class in the schools I visited.

Alternately, where are the kids who should be enrolled in these schools? They have all been pushed to low quality, English medium schools which have by and large bad teachers who are paid probably 3,000 or 4,000 Rs a month. The students are forced to pay probably around Rs 500 a month as fee. With that sort of fee, these schools can't be all that rich. Their infrastructure has to be poor; they probably do not have a playground. On the other hand the Chennai [corporation] schools had reasonable space around, fairly decent flooring, decent furniture, purified water cans, working fans etc.

I have a radical suggestion:

* Suppose we make all the Corporation Schools English medium only [just a renaming - call them Chennai Corporation English Medium Only Schools].
* Charge every student at least Rs. 100 a month.
* Force the students to wear ties and shoes and spanking new uniforms that the parents are forced to buy.

My feeling is, the enrollment will go up significantly - to the level of at least 50 students per class. Use the funds to spruce up the buildings.

This will have two advantages. The parents will now start demanding better quality teaching from the teachers, since now they are paying customers. The low quality local schools will be forced to close down.

The only downside to this whole thing is "English Medium". This will be vehemently opposed to by the Tamil fringe. [I am myself in favour of teaching most/all the kids in Tamil and hence I belong to this fringe, before you jump up!] Ignore the fringe [including me].

Will the Chennai [corporation] school teachers be up to the mark in teaching in English? My contention is, they can't be worse than the roadside low quality English school teachers anyway. These are better paid, D.T.Ed/B.Ed trained teachers anyway.

At least you will save the public schooling system and save most parents from paying 500 Rs or more per month for lower quality education. We can think about how to revive Tamil, and how to improve the quality of education later.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Narendra Modi’s projection as PM candidate is inevitable

In a detailed interview where Prof. Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University criticises Food Security Ordinance, in response to one last question on Modi, he says it is inevitable that Modi will be made the PM candidate. As usual, ET only headlines this. But do please read the entire article to see the correct perspective on FSB.
Are you happy about projecting Modi for Prime minister? Are you impressed with his style of campaigning? What do you think of the controversial "puppy" remark?

That Modi, with his enormous success in bringing prosperity to the people of Gujarat, will be projected as the PM candidate is inevitable. Modi is also forcing a debate on the importance of growth to economic and social development, which I greatly welcome. [Full Article]

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pay Rs 5 to attend Narendra Modi's rally

Modinomics: Pay Rs 5 to attend Narendra Modi's rally in Hyderabad - Times of India

The BJP is charging Rs 5 per ticket for the public meeting and on day one of the online registration for the meeting on Monday, about 8,000 persons signed up. Organizers are expecting anywhere between 50,000 to one lakh attendance for the meet, which at the rate of Rs 5 per ticket would amount to about Rs 5 lakh in case the party manages a full house. [article]

Monday, July 15, 2013

Modi's agenda for improving education in the country

Narendra Modi's 10 point agenda revealed before students - DNA

* In Gujurat first of its kind 'I create institute", is coming up under the guidance of Infoysis founder chief Narayan Murthy. Here we will groom students for the professions they have aptitude in. If I ask what is the biggest concern today for parents, it is that their child should get a good teacher. We have huge youth power, but no liking towards teaching profession. Gujurat is coming up with first of its kind Teachers training university. Then there is one Forensic Science university too is coming up.

* When I approached Narayan Murthy to head an institute in the country, he took six months to take the decision as he was scared that he received invitation from Modi, will it land him in any trouble. An IT raid probably. [article]

Modi attacks food security bill

When people want food, Congress throws a piece of law on plate: Modi - The Hindu

Taking a dig at the Food Security Bill, Mr. Modi said when it became impossible for the Congress to fulfill the promise, the party took the easy way out. “They threw a piece of law instead of food in the plate. This country is tired of acts, it wants action.” [article]

Monday, July 08, 2013

Digvijay Singh casts aspersions on Modi

Digvijay Singh takes to Twitter rant, hints at Narendra Modi's role - DNA

As the terror outfit Indian Mujahideen is under scanner for its role in the serial blasts at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, Singh tweeted that it was too early to say whether Muslim involvement waas there or not.

In a series of tweets, Singh took a dig at the Gujarat Chief Minister, saying that the blasts took place a day after Modi addressed BJP workers and asked them to teach Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a lesson. [article]

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Modi addresses Bihar BJP cadre

Narendra Modi to address 1500 BJP members in Bihar today via teleconference - DNA

After being endorsed as Bharatiya Janata Party's key strategist, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is all set to address about 1,500 party leaders and workers in Bihar via teleconference on Saturday.

This would be Modi's first foray into Bihar politics, seen as an opportunity for him to settle score with rival Nitish Kumar, whose party Janata Dal(United) severed ties with BJP over his elevation as campaign committee chief on June 16.

The BJP campaign committee chief will be giving election tips to party workers in Bihar through video conferencing. [article]

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Presentation made to Modi on problems faced by Muslims

Narendra Modi lends ear to presentation on 2002 riots - The Economic Times

A known critic of Narendra Modi, Syed Zafar Mahmood today presented a slide show, touching various aspects of problems being faced by Muslims and the 2002 riots, in front of the Gujarat Chief Minister and said he was happy that his views were taken in stride.

Mahmood made the presentation at Young Indian Leaders Conclave where Modi remained closeted for a day with 150 young participants at the event organised by Citizen of Accountable Governance. Out of the 150 participants, around 30 were from the minority community.[article]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Uddav Thackeray attacks Modi, then retracts

Shiv Sena attacks Narendra Modi, then does U-turn - Indian Express

In an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana, Shiv Sena has criticised Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over his "parochial and regional outlook" in only trying to rescue Gujarati pilgrims from flood-ravaged Uttarakhand.

However, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray played down the criticism, saying, "It was not meant to attack Modi but against those handling his communication."[article]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Modi in Punjab, woos Kashmiris

Modi invokes Vajpayee, woos Kashmiri youth in Punjab rally - Indian Express

Modi reached out to the youth of Kashmir by underlining their importance in the development of the nation, but lamented that the Congress-led UPA government had failed to provide them with the opportunities they deserved and wanted. "Instead of bomb, bandook (gun) and pistol, there was a need to usher in peace, unity and harmony," he added. [article]

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Modi in Uttarakhand - news and views

Modi in his twitter feed said he was ready to rebuild Kedarnath, an offer that will certainly be refused.

Modi calls on CM Bahuguna, discusses relief work - Hindustan Times

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his day on Saturday after meeting Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna to discuss relief works in the areas that had been devastated after last week’s heavy downpour. [article]

A bit of a gatecrasher - Karan Thapar

Modi, as far as I know, is the only chief minister who’s decided to visit Uttarakhand. In addition, he comes from the Opposition. However, he is also the campaign committee chief for the BJP and its probable prime ministerial candidate. [opinion]

Friday, June 21, 2013

BJP has dug its own grave - Vastanvi

BJP has dug its grave: Vastanvi on Modi's elevation - Times of India

"Bringing Modi forward will mean a loss of the Muslim vote bank for BJP. And by making Modi the election campaign committee head, the party itself has dug his own grave," Vastanvi told reporters here. [article]

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Modi mentioned most in social media

'Narendra Modi most, Jaitley least mentioned politician in social media' - Times of India

The study was conducted by Indian consultancy firm Blogworks from January to April 2013. It found that Modi had thrice as many mentions as Rahul Gandhi. The BJP leader was cited over 10 lakh times. However, in percentage terms, Rahul Gandhi's share of demographics between 18-34 years was marginally ahead of Modi. While Modi led the pack in overall reach, he had the lowest reach per author, according to the report. DMK leader M Karunanidhi scored the highest on that front.

The graphs in the report indicate that a significant amount of web traffic covered came from Twitter, with only marginal inclusions of traffic from Facebook, Youtube, Blogs and Forums. "Twitter has the largest share of mentions for all political leaders, followed by Facebook. Majority of the conversations on Facebook happens in private networks amongst family and friends and hence often is not available as public conversations," says the report. [article]

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nitish Kumar wins trust vote in Bihar

Nitish wins trust vote in Bihar, slams Modi's development model - Hindustan Times

Nitish Kumar sailed through with 126 votes in his favour after 91 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members and a Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) legislator walked out of the 243-member house. [article]

Modi will not be visiting Ayodhya

Modi declines invitation to visit Ayodhya - The Hindu

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has declined an invitation to visit Ayodhya. According to Vishwa Hindu Parishad sources, Mr. Modi’s proposed visit either on Wednesday or Friday is off. [article]

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Modi meets LK Advani, MM Joshi in Delhi

(I am going to track key Modi- related articles in this blog from now on.)

BJP doesn't need allies which are against it, Modi tells Advani: Hindustan Times

On his first visit to Delhi after being made head of BJP's election campaign committee, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday met senior BJP leader LK Advani and is understood to have discussed the recent political developments including the split in the NDA. [article]

Modi invited to visit Ayodhya

Narendra Modi likely to visit Ayodhya; to pray at disputed site - PTI (Economic Times)

In a move having big political significance, Gujarat Chief Minister NarendraModi is likely to visit Ayodhya this week and will also offer prayer at the disputed site.

Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia, Gorakhpur MP Yogi Aditya Nath and yoga guru Ramdev will be reaching the town tomorrow to welcome Modi, said Sharad Sharma UP spokesman of VHP. [article]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nitish Kumar's JD(U) exits NDA, angered over Modi

JD(U) ends 17-year-old alliance with BJP, quits NDA - Times of India

The JD(U) on Sunday formally announced the split of its 17-year-old ties with the BJP in Bihar and walked out of the NDA.

Addressing a news conference with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in Patna, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav also announced his resignation as NDA convener.

Since there was divergence of opinion on basic issues, we decided to part ways, Sharad Yadav said justifying the party's decision to end the alliance. [article]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Advani takes back his resignation

Narendra Modi hails LK Advani's decision to take back his resignation - Economic Times

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi today "whole heartedly" welcomed L K Advani's acceptance of BJP Parliamentary Board's rejection of his resignation, saying he knew the veteran leader will not disappoint party workers.

"I had said yesterday that Advani ji will not disappoint lakhs of Karyakartas (workers). Today, I whole heartedly welcome his decision," Modi tweeted within minutes of the announcement by party chief Rajnath Singh that Advani had accepted BJP Parliamentary Board's decision. [article]

Monday, June 10, 2013

Advani resigns from all key party posts

LK Advani resigns from all positions in BJP - Times of India

85-year-old Advani, a founder member of the BJP and considered the party patriarch after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, resigned from all main forums of the party's parliamentary board, national executive and election committee. [article]

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Modi is the BJP campaign committee chairman

Narendra Modi anointed chairman of BJP 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign committee - Times of India

Soon after the party's national executive meeting got over at 2pm, [Rajnath] Singh publicly declared that he was appointing Modi as chairman of BJP's national campaign committee. "I have an important information to share. All political parties take elections as their biggest challenge and so do we. We will move ahead with the resolve of victory. Today, I have appointed Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as chairman of the national election committee. This decision has been on the basis of unanimity," Singh declared while addressing reporters. [article]

Sunday, June 02, 2013

BCCI: From J. Dalmiya to N. Srinivasan (via L. Modi) to J. Dalmiya again

In the early 1990s, the attempt to convert BCCI into a money-spinner was started by Jagmohan Dalmiya and IS Bindra. Of the two, I would say Dalmiya was the real financial brain. Right upto when Dalmiya was ousted by Sharad Pawar in 2005, Dalmiya remained the most powerful man in BCCI. Even when Dalmiya was in ICC between 1996-2000, he was remote-controlling BCCI, in particular when it came to commercial activities of the board.

It took quite a bit of effort and political maneuvering by Sharad Pawar to get Dalmiya's representatives defeated and also initiate criminal proceedings against Dalmiya and get him banned and pushed out of BCCI and West Bengal Cricket Association for a few years. During this period, Lalit Modi was the key finance man. Finally, Modi was thrown out in 2010 and driven out of India, on charges of corruption and more.

Around this time, N. Srinivasan of the BCCI was the most capable man to handle the financial negotiations of the board.

Now, his place has become untenable.

Despite these black marks, all these three have contributed immensely to BCCI. I will also add that, none other than these three have contributed to the finances of the board. A few others have been board president and secretary over this period, but have simply deferred to these three men on almost all key matters.

Whatever setbacks they have faced, they will continue to be the most important people in the affairs of BCCI in the years to come as well. This is because of their special skills, an archaic working model of the board and manner in which board elections happen.

Let us take Dalmiya. He has single-handedly changed the way of working of not just BCCI but also ICC. He established clear commercial sources for BCCI such as (1) TV rights (2) Player sponsorship (3) tournament/tour sponsorship and ensured the best deals possible for the board. He made the board cash rich. He was also ambitious and managed the election process beautifully and lapped up all the associate member votes to get elected to the ICC President post in 1996. The world cricketing biggies of that time England and Australia kept him away for one whole year. But he came back strongly and convincingly and pushed aside all the technicalities and took over as President of ICC in 1997.

The first activity he got involved in was to generate the finances for ICC. ICC at that time was running from a single room at The Lord's, given to it by the England Cricket Board, and the subsidy money from ECB and ACB. It had only 4 staff or so. World Cup rights were with the respective organizing country. Dalmiya created ICC Champions Trophy out of thin air (the first edition was called Wills International Cup) and brought ICC the TV rights deal and immediately made ICC financially self sufficient. 1999 World Cup remained the last one under the control of an individual board (in this case, ECB) and then this lucrative championship was handed over to ICC. This happened during Dalmiya's reign.

Dalmiya had become too powerful in the board and it appeared that no one could dislodge him. He was too shrewd to pick up dummy candidates as fronts and ran the board behind them. Only wily Pawar could dislodge him and it took the powerful central minister more than an year to make this happen.

It was during Pawar's time that L. Modi rose up. Pawar was content with winning the presidency, but was not really interested in (nor capable of) managing the affairs of BCCI, most notably the pesky commercial activities. An ambitious and young L. Modi was ready at hand. A Vice-President under Pawar, he took it upon himself the task of commercial negotiations. Others simply moved away making way for him.

Modi however inherited the arrogance of Dalmiya (but not Dalmiya's shrewdness). Modi, for his part, had to do new things to go one up on Dalmiya. A country's board controls commercial rights to only the home matches. When matches were played in neutral venues such as Sharjah or Toronto, the rights were held by the local cricket associations. Modi tried to create a completely new set of rights for India, through one-day tournaments in neutral venues where the local countries had no role whatsoever. This flopped eventually, but still you have to grant it to Modi to have thought of something like this. No one else had thought about this.

However Modi's greatest baby was IPL. For this to happen, first Zee owned ICL had to be finished off. Modi did that extremely well. Then, he did an excellent job of launching IPL. He had the temerity to take the Indian Government on and moved IPL to South Africa at such a short notice, when P. Chidambaram as Home Minister asked for postponing the tournament citing Indian elections.

Corruption was his downfall as in the case of Dalmiya. Dalmiya at least exonerated himself by getting BCCI to drop all the charges against him, whereas Modi is a fugitive (as pointed out by Srinivasan correctly!) still. Whatever Modi's shenanigans are with IPL, he created a significant additional revenue stream for BCCI.

N. Srinivasan was the best placed to manage the commercial activities of BCCI from this point. Unlike Dalmiya, Srinivasan was late to BCCI, but it had to do with more powerful forces in TNCA which had not allowed someone like Srinivasan to get into BCCI. But once Srinivasan got into BCCI, there was no stopping him. That is until now.

The news today is that J. Dalmiya's has been suggested as an interim president.

I don't have great regard for any of the three mentioned above. Dalmiya is wily, Modi is outright shady while Srinivasan has clear conflicts of interest. Srinivasan however is more cricket friendly and has supported cricket for a long long time.

All these controversies aside, I expect that Dalmiya and Srinivasan will be running Indian cricket (together) at least for the next decade. Modi will forever be out. Pawar and co. do not have the commercial nous to manage BCCI. All Pawar and co. have succeeded in is to temporarily cause a setback to Srinivasan.

And I don't like this at all. There is no way there will be a thorough clean up of BCCI.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rajiv Gandhi and Prabhakaran

May 21,1991 was the day Rajiv Gandhi was blown up in Sriperumpudur by a suicide bomber. May 19, 2009 was the day Sri Lankan forces killed V. Prabhakaran, leader of  the LTTE.

I have been observing street posters in Chennai since 1997. I can see some patterns in the way emotions have changed this way and that way.

Till 2008, Rajiv posters were about revenge and demanding bringing the killers of Rajiv Gandhi to justice.

2009 was a difficult year. Before Rajiv memorial day, the whole state was under extreme tension as news of LTTE's defeat and Prabhakaran's killing hit the people strong. Congressmen were careful with their posters. No triumphalism.

The next 2-3 years, that is till 2012, pro-Eelam supporters out-shouted and out-matched Rajiv supporters in the poster space. It was about justice for the Sri Lankan Tamils killed in Mullivaikkal. Rajiv posters were there, but somewhat subdued.

This year, I see a shift. I see strong, bolder messages by the Congressmen, projecting Rajiv Gandhi forcefully. Pro-Eelam rallies are down, posters are fewer and the meetings cracked down by the police.

It seems to me that over the next 10 years, Rajiv Gandhi will slowly eat into the poster space, and come out as a victor.

I am not reading much into this yet. Merely voicing a very subjective, very limited viewpoint, based on extremely limited data.

Friday, May 10, 2013

TN Plus Two results, JEE etc.

Few random observations.

(1) Karnataka 2nd PUC (same as Plus Two in TN) results were declared on May 6th. Out of 6.11 lakh students who wrote the exam, 59.36% had passed. Oneindia site had the pass percentage in the last few years, some of which look quite shocking: (From http://education.oneindia.in/news/2013/05/07/district-wise-result-analysis-karnataka-2nd-puc-2013-004883.html)

In 2008, the pass percentage was as low as 41.31%. Remained sub 50% right until 2011. In 2012, jumped to 57.03% and now 59.36%. Not knowing the history over the last 25+ years, it does appear that this year record is the best. Still 4 out of every 10 who wrote have failed the exam.

(2) In comparison, in TN, 7.99 lakh students wrote the plus two exam, and the pass ratio is 88.1%

(3) TN's worst performing district Thiruvannamalai has a pass percentage a shade under 70%. Whereas, in Karnataka, Yadgir district pass ratio is around 46%.

Are the exams in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu comparable?Is the evaluation in TN more liberal?

As pointed out by Alex Pandian @AxPn, while we are seeing a spate of suicides in TN, the general feeling seems to be that Karnataka has done well by increasing the pass percentage. No one seems to have committed suicide.


As pointed out by RealityCheckInd on Twitter, a total of 30,000 people have qualified from the south zone in the JEE (Main) test. Of this, though, 20,000 are from Andhra Pradesh and a mere 2,000 from Tamil Nadu.

So in that case, how do we compare the education in these two states?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Anti- Sri Lankan protests in Tamil Nadu

It all started with the hunger strike by a few Loyola College students in Chennai. It seemed unclear to me what exactly their primary goal was. They had a 9 point charter of demands, which didn't read well.

It was also not clear to me what suddenly prompted this hunger strike. Sure, there was a scheduled meeting of UNHRC, where a few countries headed by the USA was going to table a resolution criticising Sri Lanka's human rights record. Channel 4 of UK had come up with another documentary, which had the haunting images of Prabhakaran's young son Balachandran eating biscuits in one frame, and found in a sea of blood in another. Two important books had been published during this time - The Cage by Gordon Weiss and Still Counting the Dead by Frances Harrison - documenting the human rights excesses by the Sri Lankan army during their bloody war against the LTTE in 2009.

The Tamil Nadu State Govt. moved swiftly and broke the hunger strike. But this only made the student protest spread across the state. Last week, almost every town had a college or two organising a local hunger protest. Even IIT Madras seemingly participated! Engineering Colleges and Medical Colleges looked to be joining. The State Government declared all colleges closed starting today.

At the political level, DMK's TESO was all for a very strong resolution against SL. Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a tough stand at UNHRC. Last week parliament witnessed Tamil MPs almost unanimous - even the TN Congress MPs.

Yet, something seemed not right.

The Indian Government response is not clear what its position is. The pressure from Tamil Nadu means that India will be forced not to back Sri Lanka. It will be made to vote along with the US resolution, which unfortunately is itself quite weak. DMK and AIADMK want the resolution to be made strong against SL, but India doesn't have the capability or willingness to do so at this late hour. Further, Even if India cobbles together a tough resolution (much against its own wish), it doesn't have the ability to convince other countries to accept its version.

The protesting Tamil Nadu students have no clue about any of this. They do not even have a clarity on whether to support the US backed resolution or not. Their goal of calling SL action as a genocide is not going to happen, because that campaign started so late.

In the end, the students will feel betrayed.

Without leaders from amidst themselves directing this, students will merely fritter away their energy and will be mostly misused by the various political parties.

Many leftist intellectuals in TN seem to be overly thrilled about the student uprising. They see it as their beloved revolution. They are entitled to their dreams.

Most students who spoke on TV seemed to know very little about the political process. They don't seem to be reading anything at all. It is obvious that whatever they presented as their demands seem to have been given to them by some other operators, with their own ulterior motives.

If the students do not read up and work on their own leaders, they will end up feeling totally disillusioned. They cannot move this current government that easily with such haphazard flash strikes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Indian language ebooks

With Tablet PCs on the rise, this year will see many Indian companies attempting ebook applications for Indian languages. At the recently concluded World Book Fair in Delhi, Rockstand (RockASAP Retail Pvt Ltd) had taken a huge stall, very nicely designed. Its press release appeared as news items in most of the Indian newspapers, through PTI. Sample this article in NDTV. The reader app is supposed to also handle Indian languages. However, investigation at the stall did not yield any useful information. The people in the stall didn't know much about this.

NDTV Gadgets has a review on this app, which you can see here. This review also states that the app has Indian language capability and also says the app is available for iOS. However, when I checked on appstore in my iPad, I couldn't locate it at all. However, the Android app works. I could download a free Hindi book. It works.

This Hindustan Times article gives an overview of various ebook service providers who were present (and not present) at the Fair. Amazon Kindle didn't have a stall. Google was not present. Amazon is not interested in Indian language ebooks at present. But Google is interested and was still not present with a stall.